December 10, 2018

Mucarsel-Powell chief of staff pick has Capitol Hill experience

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@alextdaugherty

Congresswoman-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has named former Bill Nelson and State Department advisor Laura Rodriguez as her first chief of staff. 

In Rodriguez, the first-time lawmaker is tapping someone with experience on Capitol Hill. Rodriguez worked for the State Department's legislative affairs bureau during the Obama administration where she was the point person for the House of Representatives. She also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in addition to advising Nelson. 

"As someone who was raised in the district, Laura is very familiar with the needs of the communities I will represent," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. "Her experience working on Capitol Hill and her work ethic will serve our district very well."
 
"As a woman, mother, and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Congresswoman-Elect Mucarsel-Powell is an inspiration for me personally," Ms. Rodriguez said in a statement. "Her legislative agenda to help all residents of her District access affordable healthcare, fight for common sense gun reform, addressing the unique challenges South Florida faces with Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise and protecting our environment are exactly what her District and our country need." 
 
Mucarsel-Powell will be sworn in alongside newly elected Miami Rep. Donna Shalala on January 3rd after defeating Republican Carlos Curbelo last month.

December 07, 2018

‘A freshman, but not a rookie’: Donna Shalala starts her new career in Congress

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@alextdaugherty

As Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York shivered while waiting for the official House of Representatives photo on a cold November morning outside the U.S. Capitol, Donna Shalala was nice and toasty.

Freshman members of Congress were required to ditch their jackets for the group photo, so Shalala, ever the Miamian, waited until the last possible second to join the group without layers in the 30-degree weather.

She’s used to Washington.

Shalala, 77, who will become the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in U.S. history, greets constituents and fellow lawmakers with the slogan, “I may be a freshman, but I’m not a rookie.” She claims to have found a 15-minute commute from her Georgetown condo to Capitol Hill, a product of her years of working within the highest levels of government and preference for rising early.

After a long career as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, leading the University of Miami and a stint as the head of the Clinton Foundation, Shalala is excited to become a low-ranking cog in a 435-person lawmaking body that recently earned a lower approval rating than cockroaches and traffic jams.

“I’m the only one walking around saying this is going to be fun. Everyone else looks tense,” Shalala said.

At least in official channels, Shalala won’t have much power. She can’t lead a committee as a first-year member, and ascending the leadership rung takes time. She hasn’t been assigned to any committees yet, but is looking to sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee or another committee that is likely to address healthcare, though major policy changes are unlikely until at least 2021.

“Certainly, in the first year I’m trying to stay focused,” Shalala said. “The people in this district have a handful of things that they’d like us to do. I listened to the people’s priorities and they made it very clear that they’re deeply concerned about healthcare and obviously about immigration, the environment and sensible gun control.”

But Shalala’s advantage over her peers is that she already knows the key players. Nancy Pelosi has already assured Shalala that she will be a part of any high-level policy discussions related to healthcare, Shalala said.

Read more here.

December 06, 2018

‘Trumpism isn’t the future’: Ousted Miami Republican reflects on election loss

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@alextdaugherty

Carlos Curbelo couldn’t win a two-front war.

National Democrats spent more money in Curbelo’s district than any other across the country on a healthcare-centric TV campaign. Donald Trump spent the final stretches of the campaign attacking immigrants, which didn’t help Curbelo in his majority-Hispanic district months after he led an unsuccessful GOP rebellion to force Congress to act on the issue.

And Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, avoided strategic and ethical blunders that plagued former Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat Curbelo beat in 2014 and 2016.

The combination added up to a 1.8 percentage point loss.

“I think the number one factor in my race was spending,” Curbelo said, as he worked out of a Washington coffee shop during his final weeks in office. “We got outspent significantly and a lot of the casual voters that showed up, especially late, voted straight ticket Democrat and I’d say that was really what made the difference. The barrage of ads and negative attacks do work, as much as everyone says they hate them.”

Curbelo’s assessment of his race is a hat tip to national Democrats, who considered it a personal affront that he was able to win, by more than 11 percentage points, the most Democratic-leaning seat in the country held by a Republican in 2016. Instead of repeating mistakes like backing Annette Taddeo’s failed primary campaign against Garcia two years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Mucarsel-Powell to enter the race early and began a campaign focused on healthcare in a district where nearly 100,000 people are enrolled in Obamacare. The DCCC spent just under $7.2 million to defeat Curbelo, the most the group spent in any race across the country. The haul was the largest share of $20.1 million spent on TV ads in the district by campaigns and outside groups from both parties, according to Advertising Analytics. House Majority PAC, a super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats, also spent about $2.5 million on TV ads in the district.

More here.

November 28, 2018

Democrats and Republicans want to tax pollution — and give the money back to you

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump said “I don’t see” the dangers of climate change that were included in a report released by his own administration. Voters in Democratic-controlled Washington state rejected a tax on carbon at the polls earlier this month. And a host of climate-minded Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelolost reelection and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

But a group of lawmakers on both sides see a politically palatable way to tax pollution: give the money collected from polluters back to every American in the form of a dividend.

That’s the big idea behind the latest piece of climate change legislation proposed by Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist and Florida Republican Francis Rooney. The three House members were part of a five-member group that unveiled the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on Wednesday, a sweeping bill that would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised by the tax to everyone.

“The goal was to craft a climate proposal that will be a huge leap forward in the way America responds to climate change,” Deutch said. “In South Florida, climate change is not a political issue. Our hope is with the introduction of the legislation that Congress shows that it can understand that as well.”

The carbon tax introduced Wednesday is unlikely to become law this Congress, because all bills that aren’t passed and signed by the president in the next month will expire. But the group of lawmakers see the bill’s introduction as a starting point for climate change discussions in the coming Congress, where Democrats will control the House while Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

More here.

November 03, 2018

Miami’s ‘sisterhood’ of Democrats makes a closing argument focused on healthcare

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@alextdaugherty

Zero men grabbed the microphone at a rally in front of the Community Bible Baptist Church in South Dade on Saturday.

In a year where Democrats are hoping that an uptick of women candidates can spur a blue wave across the country, Miami’s three women running for Congress — Donna Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — stood together to make their closing argument to voters and activists.

“It’s been a long road for all of us and I’ve been talking about this sisterhood that we’ve developed, Mary, Donna and I because even though we come from different background and experiences we share the same goals,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We have to fight for the soul of our country right now.”

Democrats are hoping to send an all-female Miami-Dade delegation to Washington next year, part of 197 female candidates across the country running for the U.S. House and Senate. Their message mirrored the thousands of TV commercials being run across South Florida in the closing weeks of the campaign highlighting healthcare as the most important issue on the ballot this year, after Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It’s the year of the woman and look, you know all the issues Democrats stand for,” Shalala said. “Healthcare is a woman’s issue because it’s often the women in the family who determines who goes to the doctor and usually kick their significant other to go. And so eliminating preexisting conditions means that [Republicans] are eliminating health insurance, it’s as simple as that.”

More here.

October 19, 2018

Democrats in key Florida Congressional races raised eye-popping sums in the third quarter

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Florida Democrats picked up some major fundraising momentum in August and September, with candidates out-raising their Republican opponents in seven key Congressional races during that time.

Democrats raised more money than Republicans in the races for Florida's 6th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 25th, 26th and 27th — all potential Democratic flips, according to FEC filings. Of the Democrats running in those seven districts, five led their Republican opponents in total cash on hand going into the final stretch of the 2018 elections. (The analysis in this article includes figures from the campaigns' official committees, not outside or PAC money.)

Included in that list is Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis' old district, FL-6, where Democrat Nancy Soderberg raised almost $800,000. Soderberg's Republican opponent, Michael Waltz, raised just over $600,000. The election forecasting website Fivethirtyeight lists the district as "lean Republican," giving Soderberg about a 27 percent chance to flip it.

Democrat Kristen Carlson, who's running a strong race for the FL-15 left open by Republican Dennis Ross' retirement, also dominated her Republican opponent in third quarter fundraising. She raised over $600,000, compared to Republican Ross Spano's $219,000 haul. Fivethirtyeight says that district, which favored President Trump by 10 points in 2016, is a dead heat.

In FL-27, another seat left open by a retiring Republican, Democrats are desperately hoping to win a district that favored Hillary Clinton by almost 20 points. Donna Shalala raised over $866,000 in the third quarter, compared to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar's haul of $520,000.

Those are races for open seats. In a district like FL-16, where a Democrat has to knock off a Republican incumbent, the climb is steeper. But Democrat David Shapiro still out-raised incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan in the third quarter by over $360,000. Fivethirtyeight says Shapiro has about a one-in-seven chance to flip the seat.

It was a similar story in FL-18 and FL-25, where Democrats Lauren Baer and Mary Barzee Flores out-raised incumbent Republicans Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart. Barzee has about a 25 percent chance to win her race, per Fivethirtyeight; the forecasting site gives Baer the longest odds of any Democratic candidate mentioned in this article.

Republicans have some reason for optimism as well. For one thing, Fivethirtyeight says Republicans are favored to keep five of the seven districts mentioned here. For another, fundraising is only so important at this late stage. Many television ad buys have already been made, and the closer a buy is made to election day, the more expensive it is.

Also on the fundraising front, Republican mega-donor and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged to donate tens of millions more to the Republican effort to maintain control of Congress before all is said and done.

Democrats need a net of 23 House seat pickups to regain control of the chamber in 2019. Fivethirtyeight gives the party a five-in-six chance to gain at least that many. If Democrats do, Florida could be a big reason why.

Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell will not return money from Castro-supporting lawmaker

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Barbara Lee never came to Miami.

But the mere mention of the California lawmaker’s name on the programming flier for a campaign event in Coral Gables was enough to trigger a protest, a call for South Florida Democratic candidates to divest from her campaign contributions and an attack ad from a Super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The congresswoman, who turned heads in 2016 by praising former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro after his death, was listed as an expected guest at a “Get Out the Vote” event on press releases issued by the campaigns of Democrat Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Despite the protest flare-up outside the event on Wednesday -- a crowd of mostly Cuban-American demonstrators yelled and waived anti-communism signs -- Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell said Thursday they will not return the $5,500 Lee donated to their campaigns ahead of the November election.

Lee, whose name was scrubbed from the event without explanation, donated $2,000 to the campaign of Shalala, who is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.

Lee also donated $3,500 to Mucarsel-Powell, who is running in Florida’s 26th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

In a statement to the Herald, Salazar campaign spokesman Jose Luis Castillo hammered Shalala for agreeing to appear alongside Lee and declining to return Lee’s donations.

“[Her] total disconnect and lack of empathy with this community is appalling,” he said. “Barbara Lee’s longtime admiration for Fidel Castro is deeply offensive to the Cuban community, as well as all freedom-loving people everywhere.”

After Castro’s death in 2016, Lee told the San Jose Mercury News that “we need to stop and pause and mourn his loss” and that she was “very sad for the Cuban people.”

“He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people,” Lee said then, adding that during her eight meetings with Castro over the years, she found him to be a “smart man” and a “historian” who “wanted normal relations with the United States, but not at the expense of the accomplishments of the revolution.”

The candidates said they disagreed with Lee’s sentiments toward Castro and argued that the views of their donors are not necessarily representative of their own views, although demands that candidates return money from unsavory or controversial figures have already been an issue in the race for District 26.

More here.

October 16, 2018

Independent poll shows Carlos Curbelo with a slim lead over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

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@alextdaugherty

An independent poll shows Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo with a 1 point lead over Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—and a contingent of undecided voters large enough to decide the election.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies and Telemundo 51 from October 3 to October 9 with 625 registered voters who said they were likely to vote showed a race that is essentially a toss-up for Curbelo’s Miami to Key West congressional seat that President Donald Trump lost more than 16 percentage points two years ago. Curbelo captures 46 percent support while Mucarsel-Powell takes 45 percent. Nine percent of voters are undecided as both campaigns spend millions on TV advertising.

Curbelo once had a lead in the race but Mucarsel-Powell has closed the gap in recent weeks through increased TV spending. Curbelo is better known than Mucarsel-Powell according to the poll and has a higher favorability rating, though Mucarsel-Powell has a lower unfavorable rating than Curbelo. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a tie.

More here.

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala

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@alextdaugherty

National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

October 11, 2018

New poll shows Democrat Shalala trailing GOP opponent in a district Trump lost badly

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@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo poll. The independent poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump non-party candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar’s unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by President Donald Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

“The numbers look good, they’re great,” Salazar campaign manager Jose Luis Castillo said. “She’s focused on job creation, healthcare, the environment and education. These numbers really reflect that her message, her ideas and vision are continuing to resonate throughout with voters in District 27.”

The poll of 625 registered likely voters was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, before Shalala began airing a TV ad that attempts to tie Salazar to Trump. Forty-three percent of respondents approve of Trump while 46 percent disapprove, according to the poll, while Salazar has a net favorable rating of 22 percentage points and Shalala has a net favorability rating of 4 points, though more voters recognize her than Salazar. Forty-two percent of voters support Shalala while 44 percent support Salazar, with 13 percent undecided.

“In our view, the Mason-Dixon poll is an outlier,” Shalala spokesperson Mike Hernandez said. “It does not match our internal polls both in terms of what the electorate will be or voter intention.”

Shalala’s campaign noted that Trump’s approval ratings in the district in the poll are much higher than expected and that a 2012 Mason Dixon poll sponsored by the Miami Herald showed Barack Obama winning Miami-Dade by 9 points when he ended up winning the county by 24 points.

“It’s difficult for our campaign to accept that this is the only congressional district in the country that Trump is becoming dramatically more popular,” Hernandez said.

Read more here.